Vol 11 No. 1 (2009)


Research Officer at Inform (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) based at the LSE (London School of Economics)


History and heritage are often asserted as indicators of continuity. However, meaningful pasts are mobilized according to the needs of the present, and continually reinvented and transformed. This paper seeks to explore the dynamic and fluid ways that the past is continually under revision to meet such needs. Contemporary British witches are currently experiencing a radical shift in the ways they conceptualize, evidence and rationalize their history. Until recently, practitioners claimed that contemporary practices could be traced back to pre-Christian times: formal groups of witches (covens) had a continuous and unbroken religious tradition going back to antiquity. This position has recently been subjected to extensive critique which suggests a prevailing scepticism to the idea of continuity, and an alignment with recent interpretations from scholarly historians. However, while the ‘inventions’ of earlier writers are criticized, pagans continue to feel connected to the ancient past by privileging less specific ideas about rural traditions and the primacy of experience rather than explicitly historical arguments; the use of the past is a continually creative and ongoing process. Therefore, it is clear that dynamic ideas of what constitutes both the content and context of history are central concerns for practitioners today.
University of Koblenz-Landau
Maria Balfer is currently writing her Diplom thesis on the psychology of religion at the University of Koblenz-Landau and will start on her Ph.D. in anthropology at Stanford University in the fall. She studied cultural anthropology at the University of Heidelberg and psychological and psychiatric anthropology at Brunel University West London. Her master’s thesis focused on interdependencies of group structures, cosmology and epistemology among contemporary Pagans in London.
Mary Douglas’s proposed interconnection between the social structure and symbolic system of a group is confirmed for the Pagan scene in London, as it can be described as structured around open, semi-open, and closed groups, each of which presents a distinct type of symbolic system and all of which are functionally connected in different ways. The social characteristics of a group influence the kind of symbolic interaction possible for its members, and the importance of a complex, verbally expressed symbolic system increases with the social cohesion of the group. As a result, the open Pagan scene has developed a minimal symbolic system (“generic Paganism”) and provides special ways of interaction for large groups of strangers. While the three types of Pagan events on the one hand complement each other in terms of the demands and offers they make, open and semi-open events also are important as recruitment and training grounds for closed groups. People from the closed scene, on the other hand, often act as a kind of clergy to those of the open scene.
University of Szeged
This paper discusses contemporary Paganism in Central and Eastern Europe., taking off from the general (Western) definition of contemporary Paganism, and then moving to Pagan narratives present in the region, followed by the delineation of the features of Hungarian movements as a summary of a case study. Reasons and consequences of dissimilarities are presented briefly, reflecting to the outcomes of the foregoing research.
Trinity International University
This article will look explicitly at the Druid religious identity as it relates to nature, deities and ancestors. Setting the article in the context of religious identity theory, it proposes that the study of religious identity needs to incorporate three salient features – intellect, experience and behavior. The article suggests a framework for religious identity theory – a theory of religious identity, satisfaction and deprivation – as a manner by which one might understand the ascription and achievement of an identity. Drawing from ethnographic field work, this article utilizes the interviews of contemporary practitioners as a means to understand religious identity construction.
The Open University
Mika Lassander received a M.A. in comparative religion from the University of Helsinki. He is a Ph.D. candidate in religious studies at the Open University, UK, and his thesis explores the links between values and religious change. He has contributed to two book chapters on Pagan world-views and one on the use of metaphors and rhetoric in religion (published in Finnish).
In this article I argue that the emergence of new religious movements may be a result of an adaptation of world-views to the changing needs of individuals in post-industrial societies. I explore the relation of the emergence of new religious movements and changes in social values. I compare value priorities of people who identify themselves as Pagans and those of a sample of the Open University students, who represent the United Kingdom's mainstream population. The Pagans were found to emphasise post-materialist values significantly more than the OU students. Individuals’ values were also found to be related to their view of interpersonal relations. People who have egalitarian view of others endorse post-materialist values with emphasis on universalism, while people with a competitive view of interpersonal relations endorse post-materialist values with emphasis on achievement. Furthermore, while the majority of Pagans have similar value priorities, minority sub-groups were found with significantly different priorities.
Sheffield Hallam University
Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Richmond University
Associate Professor of Visual Culture
Over the last decade, our Sacred Sites project has examined contemporary British Pagan engagements with pasts, focusing on archaeological monuments and associated material culture held in museum collections. Increasingly Pagans are taking issue with problems of disenchantment and reenchantment, opposing landscape exploitation, often equating their (contested) relationships to place and pasts to those of indigenous peoples elsewhere. We present findings and examples from our project, with a particular focus on understandings of the 'living landscape' and how its sacredness is celebrated within today's Paganisms. After a summary of the background to our research as co-directors of the Sacred Sites Project (published in 2007 as the volume Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights: Pagan Engagement with Archaeological Monuments) we indicate tensions and implications for heritage policy and social inclusion in relation to two sites of protest: Southend-on-Sea, where road-building has threatened Prittlewell Saxon Cemetery, and the Thornborough henge complex, threatened by quarrying.
Private Scholar
Comparing the growth and potential for further development of the Baha’i Faith and Wicca in Britain, this study uses the "theory of relevance" developed by Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson to explain cognition in the field of linguistics and applied to the field of religious studies by the author in an earlier work. Outlining the milieu in which both traditions began and noting possible overlaps of individuals and networks, it continues by contrasting motifs of beliefs and values between the two systems and investigates the history of both by arguing that relevance is the driving force in their respective development. Thus, the Baha’i Faith, which began by attracting radical and progressive elements, gradually became more conservative as its principles became generally accepted and its legalistic structure ensured the upholding of traditional concepts of family and sexuality. Conversely, interaction with feminism and the ecology movement caused Wiccans to embrace a radical and inclusive perspective that was not present at the inception of Gardnerian tradition. Finally, the potential for growth and influence of both traditions is assessed within the context of the theory of relevance.